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Science: The New ELL Testing Frontier

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Testing experts are creating a pool of test items they hope that some states eventually will use to assess English-language learners in science to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act.

Rebecca Kopriva—a visiting research scholar at the University of Wisconsin, Madison—and Jim Bauman—a senior associate in language testing at the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics—are directing the project, called Obtaining Necessary Parity Through Academic Rigor, or ONPAR. It is being funded with a $1.8 million "enhanced assessment grant" from the U.S. Department of Education.

The researchers have begun to write the test items, which are computerized and interactive. Some items include animation. But they aren't expected to be ready for states to use until the 2011-12 school year. That seems far off in the future to me, but I've learned in this job that producing reliable tests for ELLs is a complex matter.

The challenge, Ms. Kopriva and Mr. Bauman said in a telephone interview this week, will be to show through research studies that their science items are comparable with those on states' regular science tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

After all, a number of states have been forced to drop the use of alternative tests for English-language learners because federal Education Department officials weren't convinced they were comparable to regular state tests. The Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English, or IMAGE, was the latest casualty. (See "Illinois Drops Its Alternative Test for English-Language Learners.") Arkansas and Wisconsin also stopped using portfolio tests for ELLs when state officials couldn't prove comparability, as I reported in November 2006.

The goal, Ms. Kopriva said, will be to create a pool of science test items that can be sold to states and that states can augment with items of their own. The test items are designed to be used only with ELLs at the lowest levels of English proficiency.

Coming down the pike: plans by the same researchers to develop a pool of math test items for ELLs as well, through the same project but with a separate $1.9 million Education Department grant.

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I think we should all be bilingual !

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